February 2015 - Parks & Recreation - 62

Operations
Let Your Imagination Run Wild

Themed playgrounds are a great way to foster creative play and get community buy-in
By Samantha Bartram

T

hese days, it seems we're always searching for ways to get kids outside
and excited about play. Parents and caregivers do their part, coming up
with creative outings and tantalizing activities. Park and recreation professionals help to sweeten the pot, with enticing programming around
crafts, sports, games, cooking, art and more. But the pièce de résistance of any facility
is an amazing playground. Nothing sets a child's imagination alight like a playspace that feels as though it were designed with their greatest interests in mind.
Choosing a Theme
Dozens of manufacturers offer a plethora of choices when it comes to themed
playgrounds, so approaching the marketplace with a plan in mind is sure
to smooth the process. Conducting a
public survey is a good place to start,
in order to gauge what the community
wants in a new playground. " Community input is the most important thing
when planning a themed playground, "
says Scott Roschi, director of design at
Landscape Structures, a playground
design firm based in Delano, Minnesota. " The community helps uncover
many great ideas that lead to themed
playground designs that are more
meaningful to the community because
of a tie to the local culture or history. "
There are practical concerns, too,
says Greg Harrison, chief marketing
officer at Playworld Systems. " When
thinking through a themed playground, there are many important factors to consider, including the conceptual vision for the new play space and
determining how to maintain high
levels of play value without sacrificing
the overall look and feel of the themed
structure. It's also critical to know the
total budget for the project, which
goes beyond purchasing equipment to
also include surfacing. "

60	 Parks & Recreation

Harrison recommends agencies ask:
*	 Will the themed playground blend
with the surrounding area?
*	 Are there existing visual elements
that can be incorporated to enhance
the theme onsite?
*	 Is the theme one that children will
still enjoy a decade from now?
Safety is a major component -
" Above all, it's the biggest issue we
consider, " says Lisa-Marie Klooster,
CPSI, who serves as director of marketing at custom environment manufacturers Themed Concepts. " Each of
our products is designed and modeled
to scale to ensure that we are creating
a safe, yet engaging play product for
our intended age group...Our constant focus in our studio brainstorming sessions is to feel confident with
each product we design that we are
creating an experience for children
that provides them with a reasonable
challenge, whether balancing on a rotted log, climbing a mountain peak or
going exploring through a ground-level rattlesnake den. "
What's Hot Now?
So, what are communities currently
demanding in their custom playspaces?
" As far as the theme of the product is
concerned, it's all about nature, nature,

| F E B R UA R Y 2 0 1 5 | W W W. N R PA . O R G

nature, " Klooster says. " Although our
artists are hanging on to a collection of
product designs that range from funky
art deco to high fantasy, nature is definitely the driving theme right now, and
there is no end in sight. "
Roschi concurs, " Nature-inspired
playgrounds have been a significant
theme as many communities really
want to help connect kids to the natural
world around them. Incorporating natural materials and creating a connection
to the local animals and plants are really important aspects in this movement,
and [Landscape Structures] takes special care of adding as much realism as
we can to these environments. "
Incorporating a sense of place is
also a marked trend, as community
members rally for playground themes
that reflect the history and natural elements of the surrounding landscape.
" Creating a local-themed playground
is fun because, as a designer, we have
the opportunity to learn so much about
a specific community - the local history, architecture or culture, " Roschi
continues. " Then we take that inspiration and turn it into an amazing play
environment that is reminiscent of the
community and, most importantly, a
place where play and imagination can
really take hold for many years. "
Harrison says incorporating cues
from the local environment also helps
to facilitate a bond between the playground and the families who frequent
it. " One of the added benefits of
themed playgrounds is that they often
inspire true ownership/sponsorship
from the local community, particular-



February 2015 - Parks & Recreation

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